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SO to start with The Creation (Die Schöpfung): it is currently my favourite.

I really like Haydn in the first place. I played some of his sonatas (I also really like sonatas, though it took me awhile to warm up to them--I liked the drama of Romantic composers when I was younger) and I'd studied parts of The Creation as part of music history. And of course there are some really famous pieces by him it's hard to miss--the Surprise symphony!

Hadyn makes me smile because he's totally playing tricks on the audience and the performers, laughing a little bit behind the scenes. In many ways, the music is quite symmetrical and classical. There are a lot of choral entries which feature each voice part singing the same melody, just one measure offset; he repeats measures in the classical structure; his sonatas follow the usual introduction-development-recapitulation; his melodies and harmonies are very tonal. But he loves springing little surprises onto you. Just as you think you have learned the part and that it will repeat for a second phrase, it suddenly isn't the same; it's been subtly tweaked just enough to produce a different sound. That part you thought would repeat four times is actually two repeats and three variations, joke's on you, sight-reader! (If you're not sure which one is the Surprise symphony, it's the one that starts out very quiet and then has the orchestra blast a shock chord to wake you up. It's so great. A+ would recommend.)

The Creation is about God's creation of earth, with text from a mix of the Bible and Milton's Paradise Lost. Hadyn word-paints the entire thing--word painting is using the music to represent the text--and it's a glory to behold. In the beginning, when it's all chaos, the orchestra plays a mess; when the first sunbeam comes out, the first violins begin by holding a single note (no harmony) and is gradually joined by all the strings, until the sun gradually crests the horizon and all the orchestra joins in. You can hear the sun rising. When the text talks about the weather--the roar of thunder (timpani at the back rolling ominously), a blizzard (as the strings go mad), the gentle snow (the strings delicately picking things out as the bass gently sings (rarity). And in the beginning, as God is casting Satan's host into the deeps, the choir storms in with the words shrieking, wailing, rage, all sung with heavy emphasis. Then a few bars later, the choir sings about a beautiful new world springing forth in a much nicer major key.

The best part, though, is when the libretto talks about the different animals being created in the second movement. See, the orchestra does a lot of echoing or heralding. When the soprano sings about the eagle circling, the music leaps and glides; when she sings about the dove calling, the word for cooing is decorated with trills. And best of all, when he talks about the cattle, Hadyn chooses to insert the lowing into the music--the bassoon produces a BLAAAAT sound which is entirely indescribable but very loud and makes me laugh every time. This Wikipedia clip demonstrating the range of a bassoon gives a good idea of what the bassoon playing that part sounded like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bassoon-technical-range.ogg (it's the first note). And this happens in the middle of the recitative! It's so great. Sometimes I think he is having fun with the animals too; Raphael sings slowly at the end of his recitative about the animals: "in long dimensions creeps, with sinuous trace, the worm".

My favourite parts are of course the choral ones, because I'm most familiar with them. I think if I tried to write about all 34 movements (of which we omitted a few), this would be way too long, and in fact it's already very long. I have included the music in youtube videos--there are three vids, and I didn't want to embed each all over the place so I've just provided start times for the pieces.

The choir first enters after Raphael sings briefly about God creating heaven and earth. We enter very quietly; this is as God is creating light. And when we sing "and there was light" ("und es ward Licht"), on the last word "light", the choir goes from very quiet to full forte and the orchestra explodes with sound. In the wake, Uriel triumphantly announces that God saw the light was good.

The next entrance is an aria with Uriel ("Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle", "Verzweiflung, Wut und Schrecken..."), which is the aforementioned shrieking and wailing as the spirits are chased into the abyss, and a new world comes into being. This part begins 12:27 in the vid embedded a couple paragraphs down.

One of my favourite movements is when the soprano (after the weather has been described) sings about the wonder of the second day ("Mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk"). This is a colouratura role; she frequently ascends to a high A and all the way up to the C and her voice floats above the choir. This starts 15:52 in Part I.

After that is another celebration, this one beginning with the invocation to awaken the harps, let the glory resound. ("Stimmt an die Saiten"), begins 27:55 with Uriel singing a recitative. It begins a capella, and the orchestra joins in after a few bars as though it's obeying the command--"awake the harps" *orchestra plays* "ye choirs awaken" *more orchestra*. It's another fugue, with the choir singing about how the earth is clothed in light and glory. The text goes "heavens and earth" and on "earth" we drop an interval of a seventh down, you know, to symbolize earth (a descending major seventh).

The next part for the choir is the most famous of all the choral parts in this piece--"The Heavens Are Telling", "Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes". Start at 33:58 in vid below (bass says: "also")

It follows quite closely after Stimmt an die Saiten, with only a recitative and a small aria bridging the two, and the chorus follows attaca (attached) to the previous aria, because the bass says "the chorus saying..." and then we jump in. It's actually a very short text, but repeated many times:
The heavens are telling the glory of God
With wonders of his work resounds the firmament
(This is not the original English translation. That one is very, very odd; there are some phrases that are distinctly calqued from German and make very little sense, so I suppose on the whole it's a good thing we sang the German text.)

Like "Stimmt an die Saiten", this one's also a fugue, and so all the complex layering sounds is representative of praise being heaped. The really nice part of the fugue is that the choir breaks up into parts to sing their respective lines, and then at the end, joins together in similar rhythm and you can tell; the volume is louder because we're all in unison, and it really does sound glorious. The dissolution of the fugue just highlights the unity. And this chorus has an incredible forward momentum; you're either swept along or...well, there's no alternative, then it sucks. There's actually a tempo change in the middle, after the soloists sing for the second and last time. The choir speeds up, and it's like the piece gathers steam and just goes for the end. It's one of those endurance pieces, but it is so tremendously exciting to sing. Haydn knows how to write his endings.

That ends the first movement. The second movement details the creation of all the creatures, the birds and the fish and the animals on the ground; these are all sung by the soloists, in either recitatives or arias embroidering the tale. The choir joins in briefly to sing "Der Herr ist gross in seiner Macht" ("the Lord is great"). (Runs 15:06 - 17:14.)

Holy cow, we sang this so fast. I think I mentioned before that this is a coloratura part for soprano? Coloratura for soprano is very high and requires extreme agility; the music is heavily embellished with runs and trills. The soprano soloist in this one sings a huge long line of melisma (one syllable, many many notes) way up in the high register, on top of the other soloists and the choir combined. And she wanted to go fast, so we went fast--she just blazed through the high notes. It was incredible.

After that there was more about the beasts and the animals, and then the soloists sang about the creation of man ("but all the work was not yet complete!" then description followed.) The choir usually is the praise--so we entered with "Vollendet ist das grosse Werk" ("Fulfilled at last the glorious work"). I actually liked this one the least--that stupid phrase "denn er allein" was always up in the uncomfortable high part--but like most pieces with "Allelujah", there were lots of interesting melismas for the choir as well. (Just open your mouth with the AHH sound and follow pitches--don't have to worry about words!) This one also had a lot of call-and-response between the men and the women, repeating the same phrase back and forth.

Here is the second movement:

We broke for intermission at this point, mostly for the benefit of the conductor and the orchestra; the choir got to sit (thank you) and really only did commentary. We weren't entirely holding up the show, this time!

Third part! One of Adam and Eve's dialogue (sung by the same soloists who played Raphael & Gabriel, our baritone and soprano) I love. The orchestra is just so incredibly jocular and the music skips along. The chorus comes in and out, emphasising some of their words--again in praise, echoing the soloists' words. Here's the part with the happy orchestra and probably my most favourite bass part, start 7:27:

Eve and Adam sing about their love, and at almost the end, Uriel comes in one last time to comment on the pair: in the only mention of the Fall, he hopes that the pair will be happy forever, that they never try to know more than they should. Then the choir embarks on the last, triumphant chorus with the soloists.

And oh, boy, Haydn is not joking around. Start 24:25 in the vid linked above.

The choir starts with a long, sustained slow phrase--"Singt dem Herren alle Stimmen" ("sing to God, ye hosts unnumbered!") Here the rhythm is in unison, so all the voices move together, and it's a big, full sound. Then yet another fugue begins (with the altos starting, the only time), and the soloists--with an additional alto part sourced from the choir actually--and you know sometimes the soloists sound out of place? The texture of three voices is so different from fifty. But here it made just the perfect contrast; the choir was mostly unified by that point, while the four soloists all sang wild melismatic passages, and then it was back to unity, and then again to melisma.

On the second-last page, the orchestra (which had backed off almost entirely during the soli parts) jumped in with us, and then crashed back in as the choir embarked on a fifteen-beat sustained E flat. Then all together with the same rhythm and same notes, we sang the last phrase "the lord is great, he reigns for evermore" (the sustained E flat was in fact on "ewigkeit", forever). It's a pretty high note to hold for so long, and descending the half-step to the next was incredibly difficult; half-steps are the smallest interval and it's usually extremely easy, but after staying up there so long so loudly unwavering on the note it's weirdly difficult. But the chord is so satisfying. And of course then the choir is all moving together at the end and it ends with several cadences. Unlike some composers, who have their perfect (V-I) cadences at the end of thepiece and then tack on plagal cadences (IV-I, which feels less "complete") for the "Amen" part, Hadyn stacked three perfect cadences on top of each other. Extra finality.

The finale is so much fun to sing. SO MUCH FUN. It makes everything preceding worth it--all the difficult parts, all the learning, all the sore hips and feet and arms, all the waiting, everything worth it. I walked off stage feeling like all was right with the world and grinning.

tl;dr: I was really excited to sing the Creation when I found out in September, and now that I have, I love the whole piece like burning. LOVE.

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/153970.html.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2014 05:41 am (UTC)
Wow, I had no idea this piece had bits and pieces directly related to animal sounds. That's . . . adorable. :)
Apr. 13th, 2014 01:54 am (UTC)
He does go through a lot of the animals! Tigers and the fishes and the birds. And the rivers and the streams and the brooks (this is also how I discovered the word "bach" meant brook and not just the composer). The mountains, the flowers...all the things!
Apr. 13th, 2014 06:37 am (UTC)
Oh, "bach" means brook? Whoa. My mind is blown! :)
Apr. 13th, 2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think so! Though I am not sure if the usage is current or not.

Edited at 2014-04-13 04:06 pm (UTC)
Apr. 12th, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC)
text from a mix of the Bible and Milton's Paradise Lost

Clearly a man of great taste.

I really need to come back to this post when I have more time and brainpower, you make such interesting points.
Apr. 13th, 2014 01:54 am (UTC)
:D I love the piece so much. Come back whenever you like!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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